The government has launched an updated bio-economy strategy that seeks to harness partnerships with industry and academia in order to accelerate the development of bio-based services, products and innovations in South Africa.


The science-based Bio-Economy Strategy, approved by the Cabinet in November and launched by Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom on Tuesday, positions bio-innovation as essential to the achievement of the country’s industrial and social development goals.


Speaking to journalists at the launch in Pretoria, Hanekom said the strategy improved on the National Biotechnology Strategy of 2001 by “going beyond the mere generation of new technologies to ensuring that technology development is informed by the needs of the country and people, and that social and economic value is generated”.


The strategy calls for industry, science councils, government departments and academia to cooperate closely to ensure that biotechnology and bio-innovations are market-relevant and find easier application in South Africa.


According to Business Day, the strategy’s proposals include the setting up of a R2-billion venture capital fund to support initiatives that extract economic value from the country’s rich biological resources.


“One of South Africa’s greatest assets is the combination of its rich biological diversity and its wealth of indigenous knowledge,” Hanekom said. “Our country is the world’s third most biologically diverse country and is home to almost 10% of the world’s known plant species and 15% of all known coastal marine species – including a newly identified lobster that has been named after Madiba (munidopsis mandelai).


“This capital can be used to the country’s advantage in the current economy through multidisciplinary approaches, including providing raw materials for the natural product sector, bio-prospecting with the aim of developing pharmaceutical, cosmeceutical and industrial applications, and using indigenous plants and animals as food sources.”


The government’s aim, Hanekom said, was to grow the bio-economy through strengthened partnerships with industry, and to extract the full potential of the country’s living systems “through the application of our collective competencies and capabilities.


“The benefits to society will include the more sustainable use of resources, the development of new products, and improved job prospects.”


According to the Department of Science and Technology, the Bio-economy Strategy is closely aligned with the country’s National Development Plan (NDP), which holds that advances in science, technology and innovation will underpin advances in South African economy and society.


“It is expected that by 2030 biotechnology and bio-innovation will be making a significant contribution to South Africa’s gross domestic product through the creation of bio-based services, products and innovations, intellectual property management and support for bio-entrepreneurs,” the department said in a statement on Tuesday.


“In addition, the strategy recognises and builds on the important contributions that indigenous knowledge can and should play in the development of our bio-economy.”